01/17/2014 04:18 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2014

Exceptional Customer Engagement: Audience, Purpose and Quality

Thoughtful engagement is the way to consumers' hearts, which makes content an ideal vehicle for cultivating meaningful engagement with customers. According to a Curata study, 87 percent of marketers have indicated that content is a key part of their marketing strategy. While it is old news that content is essential, what marketers struggle with is not distributing content, but how to perfect the content game.

As marketers seek to perfect their content strategy, they must take a holistic approach across each channel of engagement. Two reports, "The State of B2B Content Marketing: 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends" and "2014 B2C Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends", assess the state of the industry through the lens of B2C and B2B marketers, revealing that the top content challenges marketers experience are producing engaging content and integrating content across all marketing efforts.

Developing a powerful content program takes time and careful planning, but there are steps marketers can take to set a solid foundation. This begins with three basic pillars that should be incorporated into every touch point with customers: audience, purpose, and quality. A deep understanding of audience is the first prong that dictates the purpose of the engagement and drives all interactions. Having a firm grasp on audience and a clearly defined purpose equips marketers to deliver stronger and more effective content.

Understand Audience Inside & Out

A keen focus on audience is more important than ever in today's crowded marketing landscape. According to a study by Yesmail and Gleanster, an overwhelming 80 percent of brands don't know their customers. Without a firm grasp on audience it is challenging to deliver content that is valuable and doesn't overwhelm target audiences with useless information that is open to misinterpretation. The point is, knowing the audience enables marketers to create content with the right objectives in mind, so they can share pertinent and relevant topics that their audience will love. Failing to do so is a great risk to revenue, growth, and the long-term sustainability of a business.

Levi's is one brand that understands its audience inside and out and has crafted a marketing strategy that goes above and beyond to reach young, socially connected millennials. The iconic denim brand listens to its audience on its social channels, gathers insight and then delivers experiences that are tailored to those interests. For example, Levi's launched its first Global Skateboarding Collection along with building a new skate park in Bangalore, India. Levi's grew its product line specifically for its young audience by listening to their interests and the result is a thriving community of more than 20 million Facebook fans, and nearly 400,000 Twitter followers that are dedicated to the brand.

To effectively engage with customers, it is essential that marketers keep three audience-specific factors in mind:

  • Become a student of engagement. Get familiar with how customers absorb and respond to content on each channel. Uncover what piques interest and triggers action, then adjust content accordingly.
  • Understand the customer journey. Having a firm grasp on how customers engage across channels and devices is invaluable when creating content that resonates. This includes understanding buying behavior as customers move from mobile, to tablet to desktop to complete a transaction.
  • Never stop learning. Customers' interests and needs can change without warning. Stay a step ahead by implementing ongoing analysis of customers' interactions with the brand and by using customer insight to stay in tune with customers changing interests and needs.

Perfect The Purpose

There are countless ways for companies and customers to interact, which increases the chances of alienation if that communication isn't purpose-driven. To combat the dreaded customer drop-off, the first step is to get a firm handle on the purpose of the content. Whether it is to educate or entertain, every piece of content should tie back to that purpose and provide value to the customer.

LinkedIn is a great example of a company with a purpose-driven strategy. The company has morphed from a bare-bones means of connecting professionals into a powerful content machine that boasts more than 200 million members. LinkedIn achieved this success by focusing on its purpose -- creating economic opportunity for every professional -- and echoing this purpose throughout its marketing program.

From product to design to content creation, LinkedIn executes flawlessly and addresses its audiences' needs while maintaining a consistent, professional tone. Further, LinkedIn consistently brings value to its members in innovative ways with programs like LinkedIn's Pulse, which offers insights from business leaders like Richard Branson, Founder at Virgin Group. Through a strong understanding of purpose and audience, coupled with a consistent message and tone, LinkedIn delivers engaging content that delights customers and drives business value.

Keep purpose top of mind when developing a content strategy by incorporating the following:

  • Create value. Don't just spread content, become a valuable resource. Provide content that addresses customers' pain points and aligns with their interests. Share relevant articles from across the web, experiment with different types of content (e-book, blog post, video, infographic, etc.) and encourage participation to keep customers coming back for more.
  • Be consistent. Decide on a tone that is appropriate for the target audience and stick with it across every content hub. Whether the tone is edgy, warm or professional, it defines the brand and should be recognizable in all forms of content.
  • Set attainable goals. Be realistic when setting content goals. Don't become a content factory; instead, develop a content schedule that can be maintained. Ensure that content produced is strong and thoughtful, even if that means slowing down the pace.

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

More isn't always better, especially when it comes to content. According to Intel research, within the time span of just one minute, more than 204 million emails are sent, 20 million photos are viewed and more than 1.3 million video clips are watched. With the enormous amount of information available on the Internet, it is increasingly difficult to make one's voice heard through all the noise.

We are entering the next phase of content marketing, in which quality outweighs quantity. Poorly crafted or inconsistent content will not only prove ineffective, it will also alienate customers. Quality has taken on even more importance as recent search engine developments, such as Google Panda, are rewarding websites with great content and devaluing those with poor content. It's not just search engines that are pushing for higher quality, consumers are as well and leading brands are starting to take notice.

Proctor and Gamble is a massive brand that has not let its size diminish the quality of its content. Its recent campaign for the 2014 Winter Olympics, "Thank you Mom I Pick Them Back Up," is the poster child for quality. The campaign centers on family values, sharing a timely and touching message that supports P&G's image as the family-friendly company. Within just weeks of the campaign's debut it saw wild success, earning nearly three million views on YouTube and more than 150,000 social shares. The campaign was a hit because it centered on basic human emotions, such as perseverance, dedication and love; feelings that people of all shapes and sizes can relate to regardless of where they live, what their job is, or where they came from.

Thoughtfully displaying the important role that parents play in our favorite athletes lives created an authentic and moving campaign that has seen wild success. Within just a week of the advertisements release it has earned nearly three million views on YouTube and more than 150,000 social shares.

For any brand, from a small startup to a large enterprise, content is the best way to reach customers and foster lasting and loyal relationships. As companies invest more resources into their content programs, it's time for marketers to fine-tune their approaches to become powerful engagement machines. Keeping audience, purpose, and quality top of mind will lead marketers down the path to successful customer engagement.